What if a big TV station came out with a blockbuster story claiming that infant car seats were implicated in cerebral palsy (CP)? After all, something like 99.7% of babies diagnosed with cerebral palsy had been brought home from the hospital in a car seat. In fact, every single time they went anywhere in a car, they were strapped into them. That’s an impressive number. There has to be some connection!
Imagine video of kids crying piteously as they’re buckled into the wretched contraptions. After all, car seats are restraining and uncomfortable. Kids hate them. But parents have been duped into using the damn things claiming it makes their children safer. Pshaw! How could a baby be safer anywhere other than in its mother’s arms?
Suppose this idea gained traction. Cerebral palsy is a dreadful thing. Why take the risk? Don’t use those nasty old car seats. Besides, don’t you know that the doctors who recommend them are all getting kickbacks from the manufacturers? (Less preposterous than kickbacks from vaccine manufacturers. Far more money in car seats.)
Some Playboy celebrity reality centerfold comes out as the spokesperson against car seats. Suddenly there’s pushback from new parents who want to decide for themselves what the safest way is to transport their precious bundle. Never mind decades of car seat research. They may not be automotive engineers, but their parental gut feelings are good enough. Besides, no automotive engineer ever had to listen to their baby cry whenever she gets strapped in.
Facebook communities emerge where car seat refusal is supported and celebrated as the newest way to keep babies safe. Parents are carefully steered to “research” that hypes the dangers of CP. “Why take unnecessary risks?” becomes their mantra. Because the hype is scary. Parents of kids with CP conspire to sue the car seat manufacturers, because “Someone’s got to pay!” Why did this happen to their child? No one has any good answers and vague discussions about prenatal injury to the brain like, “sometimes these things happen,” is just not good enough.
Of course there’s no plausible connection between car seats and cerebral palsy. But that doesn’t matter. Studies are done to try and prove car seats don’t cause CP, which is technically impossible, since you can’t prove a negative. The anti-carseaters deny that they’re against car seats. They just want “safe” ones: defined as ones that don’t cause cerebral palsy. Do a large double-blind trial: Randomly assign some babies to car seats and some to be held in mom’s arms and see how many in each group develop CP, they cry. It will take nothing less to convince them.
What happens? By and large, nothing much. Most kids don’t develop CP, however they travel in cars. And the vast majority of babies who ride in mom’s arms arrive safely at their destinations. There is a small uptick in infant fatalities that steadily grows as more and more people refuse to use car seats, but not many people take notice. The occasional family is devastated by the loss of a baby in a crash, and vow to tell their story high and wide. They do, but the only minds it changes are the ones that weren’t already made up.
Far-fetched? Sadly, not so much.
Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com